Last night I was forced to play at centre back for one of my co-rec teams. A combination of my weakened hamstring and a desperate shortage of players meant I was unable to spend the 90 minutes marauding, Lampard-like (but thinner), from box to box, as is my wont.
I managed to keep my positional discipline for first 70 minutes, and even began to enjoy the negativity of the position, but when we went 2-0 up, I decided it was time to enjoy life a little, and, timing my run from the back to perfection, managed to break a tired-looking offside trap and surge through on goal. I smoothly rounded the ‘keeper, and finished with a powerful right foot effort, which pinged satisfyingly off the corner of the upright, before sailing back over my head and into the goalie’s grateful arms.
What’s all this about, you may well ask. Well, my own feeble efforts got me thinking about the work of the unsung heroes in the Premier League. Every team has one, some have two or three. Of course, some teams are pretty much entirely unsung (Stoke City, Bolton Wanderers?), but here’s my question: What exactly is it that makes an ‘unsung hero’?
Literally, of course, the fans won’t have a chant for that player, but how do you really quantify an unsung hero? We’ve become accustomed to praising the ‘tireless efforts’ of the defensive midfielders. We know all about the ‘great organisational skills’ of top defenders, and ‘commanding presence’ of goalkeepers. Are there any true unsung heroes left in the game? Who fulfils the role at your club? Is there more to it than doing the hard yards, or the dirty work? Is a defender who can chip in with goals or assists any more valuable than his hard-tackling counterpart? Is Ashley Cole an unsung hero – there are plenty of songs about him, but none are particularly flattering.
For me, Ji-Sung Park is an excellent example. He may never be first name on the team sheet at United, but his work rate is phenomenal, he’s shown consistent improvement year on year, he never whines about not making the first team, and will play whatever role is required of him, with tireless commitment. And yet, ask 50 United fans to name seven of their current favourite players, and I’d be surprised if he got a single mention. He does of course have his own chant, but let’s skip the debate about the culinary merits of labradors, for the moment.
Of course, the scrutiny and interest in the Premier League means that there are very few players who aren’t well known and under the microscope these days, but I still believe that even in the top flight, there are three players like, say, Leighton Baines for every one such as Andre Arshavin.
Who fills the role at your club, and why do they get your vote?